Welcome to Heavenly Heights

Welcome to Heavenly Heights

4.2 5
by Risa Miller
     
 

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A first novel written by PEN Discovery Award Winner Risa Miller, Welcome to Heavenly Heights describes a group of American Jews who have left the United States, not just to move to Israel, but to live in a settlement on the West Bank. Miller conjures a culture and a movement--part religion, part pipe dream--viewed through the pinhole of one ragged apartment

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Overview

A first novel written by PEN Discovery Award Winner Risa Miller, Welcome to Heavenly Heights describes a group of American Jews who have left the United States, not just to move to Israel, but to live in a settlement on the West Bank. Miller conjures a culture and a movement--part religion, part pipe dream--viewed through the pinhole of one ragged apartment building's door: its families, their dinners, their weddings, their marriages, their sorrows. While bombs can be heard at the edges of these pages, it is inside the settlement, Heavenly Heights where Miller's delicate, understated prose limns the lives of these tender souls.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Thoughtful, lovely language with the lightest touch . . . poetic, deeply affecting. An allusive, graceful novel.” —Neil Gordon, The New York Times Book Review

“Remarkable prose . . . memorable portraits of people in sync with both the country they've left behind and the political reality of their new home.” —The Washington Post Book World

“This novel pulses with acute observation--and with implications of a broader tragedy. In honoring the particularities of human life in Heavenly Heights, this fine writer honors life everywhere.” —James Carroll

“Graceful and engaging . . . Miller explores the many meanings of home, rootedness, and community.” —The Jewish Week

“Miller is able to conjure a culture and a movement--part religion, part pipe dream.” —Elinor Lipman

“A necessary and important book. Miller has chosen to present the complex human reality behind the screaming headlines. We are grateful she did.” —Naomi Regan

“For Orthodox Jews, Israel is not merely a country, but 'the Land of Israel, the biblical promised portion'--in other words, 'home.' The families in Miller's first novel are mainly immigrants from the U.S. who now live in a small settlement in an embattled area outside Jerusalem, motivated by the conviction that it's their responsibility to reclaim the land of the biblical patriarchs. Miller convincingly portrays the faith that leads people to leave their comfortable homes in American suburbs and relocate to a dangerous place where car and bus bombs are always a threat, and random shootings are common. The plot follows several women, all residents of one apartment house, over the space of a year of changing weather, national crises and dramatically altered lives. Enlivened by Miller's fresh and spirited eye for imagery, the narrative builds a web of cumulative quotidian details that convey the culture shock of primitive living where water supplies are chancy, construction is often shoddy, the bureaucracy is overwhelming, and men stow their weapons in the foyer of the shul, next to the stack of prayer books. The characters are nicely nuanced . . . In the end, the psychological landscape is the most impressive part of this often engrossing novel [and] readers must decide for themselves whether the appealing characters are idealists or zealots, 'heroes or just plain crazy,' as one character muses.” —Publishers Weekly

“Miller's first novel chronicles the lives of a group of Americans, newly immigrated to Israel with a variety of baggage--emotional as well as material. Religiously observant Jews, they have come to settle not in Jerusalem proper but in a West Bank settlement called Heavenly Heights. A quote from Psalm 137--'We will raise Jerusalem above our chiefest joy'--is the bulwark that sustains the group through countless travails. The young families form friendships, the children play simple games, marriages have their ups and downs, the cycle of Jewish holidays is observed, and a culture of sorts develops. Miller mainly conveys the story from the perspective of several wives who often gather on the balcony of one of the apartments in Building Number Four (where they all live) to pass the time while the husbands are at Sabbath prayer service. Kentucky-born Debbie, a convert to Judaism, sings country songs and quotes her granny while tending to her large brood of children. Tova, newly arrived from Baltimore, has given up a life of material plenty to lead a more spiritual one with her zealous husband, as well as her children. Random West Bank violence, the family tensions, and the stress of living in such close quarters are only hinted at in their attempts at cheerful banter. Miller artfully presents a sobering yet sympathetic view of a parochial lifestyle, an intimate cameo replete with its values, problems, and hopes. For most fiction collections.” —Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Maryland, Library Journal

“Remarkable . . . This is a sensitive and clear-eyed portrayal of a much-debated and misunderstood way of life.” —Meredith Parets, Booklist

Publishers Weekly
For Orthodox Jews, Israel is not merely a country, but "the Land of Israel, the biblical promised portion"-in other words, "home." The families in Miller's first novel are mainly immigrants from the U.S. who now live in a small settlement in an embattled area outside Jerusalem, motivated by the conviction that it's their responsibility to reclaim the land of the biblical patriarchs. Miller convincingly portrays the faith that leads people to leave their comfortable homes in American suburbs and relocate to a dangerous place where car and bus bombs are always a threat, and random shootings are common. The plot follows several women, all residents of one apartment house, over the space of a year of changing weather, national crises and dramatically altered lives. Enlivened by Miller's fresh and spirited eye for imagery, the narrative builds a web of cumulative quotidian details that convey the culture shock of primitive living where water supplies are chancy, construction is often shoddy, the bureaucracy is overwhelming, and men stow their weapons in the foyer of the shul, next to the stack of prayer books. The characters are nicely nuanced, but quick shifts in chronology sometimes impede the narrative flow. In the end, the psychological landscape is the most impressive part of this often engrossing novel. But outside of portraying the settlers' fundamental religious convictions, Miller never really develops the other side of the argument-that the West Bank communities are provocative to their Arab neighbors. In the end, readers must decide for themselves whether the appealing characters are idealists or zealots, "heroes or just plain crazy," as one character muses. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. Author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
This debut novel tells the story of an American Jewish family—Mike and Tova and their children Esther (11), Yoni (3) and Avi (an infant)—who leave Baltimore to go "home" to Israel. "Number 4," the apartment building where they reside in Heavenly Heights on the violent West Bank, becomes the eye through which the reader views the family's experiences. Tova, the main character, is hesitant, reluctant to uproot her family for unfamiliar territory, and takes her cues from those around her, mainly her husband. Observant of others, Tova is keenly aware of the effect the move has on her family, particularly Esther. Ironically, she is not so in tune with her own feelings, and it is only when she returns to the US that she realizes the impact Heavenly Heights has had on her, and the strength of the relationships she has forged there. Miller takes some time to engage the reader in her characters, using historical flashbacks to provide insight into their current situations. Non-Jewish readers may have some difficulty with references to Jewish customs and the prevalent use of Hebrew. While Miller doesn't delve much into the politics behind the Israeli-Palestine conflict, she gives the reader a feel for the dangers of daily life in Jerusalem, where war rages everywhere and death lurks around every corner. Such timely subject matter should be of interest to older YAs and adult readers alike. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, St. Martin's Griffin, 230p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Kristen LeBlanc Ivory
Library Journal
Miller's first novel chronicles the lives of a group of Americans, newly immigrated to Israel with a variety of baggage-emotional as well as material. Religiously observant Jews, they have come to settle not in Jerusalem proper but in a West Bank settlement called Heavenly Heights. A quote from Psalm 137-"We will raise Jerusalem above our chiefest joy"-is the bulwark that sustains the group through countless travails. The young families form friendships, the children play simple games, marriages have their ups and downs, the cycle of Jewish holidays is observed, and a culture of sorts develops. Miller mainly conveys the story from the perspective of several wives who often gather on the balcony of one of the apartments in Building Number Four (where they all live) to pass the time while the husbands are at Sabbath prayer service. Kentucky-born Debbie, a convert to Judaism, sings country songs and quotes her granny while tending to her large brood of children. Tova, newly arrived from Baltimore, has given up a life of material plenty to lead a more spiritual one with her zealous husband, as well as her children. Random West Bank violence, the family tensions, and the stress of living in such close quarters are only hinted at in their attempts at cheerful banter. Miller artfully presents a sobering yet sympathetic view of a parochial lifestyle, an intimate cameo replete with its values, problems, and hopes. For most fiction collections.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An Orthodox Jewish family makes aliyah to the Promised Land and braves it out among a hardscrabble survivors' community-in Miller's low-simmering, blandly written, but warm-spirited PEN Discovery Award debut.

Tova Zissie ("good and sweet"), who teaches English in Baltimore to Russian immigrants, and her financial project manager husband, Mike, decide it's time to reverse exile and return "home" to Jerusalem: they will be heroes among their Orthodox community, "spirited keepers of the flame." In fact, they end up in a sheltered West Bank community called Heavenly Heights among a disparate group of mostly American exiles like themselves. The story tracks the newly arrived family's first shaky year trying to feel at home on this physically vulnerable site near the Jordanian border and amid a strange conglomeration of fairly impoverished but fiercely religious settlers. Tova, conflicted at first, finds a new friend in the outspoken Kentucky convert Debra, who always brings the conversation among the wives and mothers around from American gadgets to men and sex, which makes them blush violently. Other dramas include a doomed friendship between wayward teenager Yossi and a son of the upstanding Rabbi Altman, whose wife is confined to a wheelchair with MS; the shady family financial dealings back in the States that Mr. Stanetsky, widower and owner of the building, must settle, though he simply wants another wife; and the crowing of Ahouva, the young, pretty mother of five children in six years, about her latest appliance brought with her American parents. The point of view shifts as Miller delves into back stories of some of these characters, and the tale never gets to a climax so much as toa mild-moving denouement that mirrors the tenants' interminable state of waiting, preparedness-and chauvinism.

Precarious lives and eternal holidays patiently observed among West Bank settlers.

Author tour

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312326159
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
01/16/2004
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
783,601
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

Meet the Author


Risa Miller won a PEN Discovery Award for Welcome to Heavenly Heights. She grew up in Baltimore, spent several years in Israel, and now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her family. Welcome to Heavenly Heights is her first novel.

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Welcome to Heavenly Heights 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Risa Miller's superb character development and delicate prose makes this book a joy to read. Books like this need to be read not because of politics but because excellent literature like Heavenly Heights transcends politics. Miller's observations of human nature are acute and thought provoking. Bravo to Miller for writing a brave and lovely novel.
harstan More than 1 year ago
To Orthodox Jews, Israel is more than just Moses¿ Promised Land as it is the soul¿s home. Living anywhere else is exile regardless of assimilation, equal treatment or standard of living. Though a second or third generation American Jewish family may desire relocation to the Land of Israel, not many will accept the sacrifice especially moving to the dangerous West Bank. Though she worries about the impact of acclimation especially on her young daughter to a land where the family¿s Camry could be wired to explode, Tova and her family move to Heavenly Heights, a small community on the West Bank. She and most of her neighbors in the apartment building attend a synagogue filled with soldiers leaving weapons alongside prayer books. Though containing doubts as strong as that which kept Moses out of the Promised Land and missing suburban America, Tova and the other residents try to follow the Mitzvahs and do the right thing in a world that at times feels like hell. This is a tremendous look at what motivates a Western Jew to give up a comfortable safe lifestyle to voluntarily enter a place where violence is as common as falafel and potential forced relocation hangs over the yarmulkes. The insightful ensemble story line focuses on one year in the lives of several people as they try to behave like a ¿proper¿ Jew in a cantankerous spot in which the psychological land mines seem overwhelming. Though vividly descriptive and well written, the plot lacks the other argument that these Jewish West Bank communities enrage Arab neighbors who see them as reminders of an occupation force. Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
While newscasters trumpet the latest statistics from one of the most vied for areas of the world, first time novelist Miller puts very human faces on an often misunderstood way of living. Her perceptions are astute, her prose meticulous, and her powers of observation remarkable. This is the story of a group of American Jews who leave the United States to make Aliyah - they go to Israel, to a settlement on the West Bank. It is the first year in their new home that Miller traces with artist's eye and abundant heart as she depicts a culture and a faith through their dinners, weddings, births, marriages, adjustments, and mikvahs. What must it be like, what motivates one to leave the comforts of America for a dangerous place where car and bus bombings are a daily occurrence? Couple that fear with an iffy water system, a tedious, sometimes blind bureaucracy, and construction that often would not pass inspection. It is a place where worship is familiar, but men bring guns to the shul. It is a land where the sound of dropping bombs echoes throughout. Yet, in the West Bank settlement of Heavenly Heights there can be heard the sound of laughter as friendships are forged and religious faith reigns supreme. Winner of a PEN New England Discovery Award for this unpublished manuscript, Miller is a deft writer who does a service by sharing the lives of these sturdy souls. "Welcome To Heavenly Heights" is a book to be read and remembered.
Guest More than 1 year ago
an excellent book written by an excellent mother!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many reviewers have praised Ms. Miller for creating a non-political novel which avoids controversy, while focusing on character, the joys of religious observance and the beauty of spiritual journeys. These reviewers viewed the lives of the settlers from Heavenly Heights as being divorced from the conflict between the competing nationalisms of Palestinians and Israelis. They understand the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as tragically intruding on the settlers¿ innocent religious celebrations and mundane but heroic daily lives. This is a misreading of the novel. Ms. Miller¿s novel although emphasizing the non-political gives plenty of indication as to the political beliefs of her group of immigrants. Mike belongs to the YESHA Council, which is a right-wing group that supports increased settlement and actively opposes any future compromise with the Palestinians. Also, the rebuilding of the Temple on the site presently occupied by the mosque known as the Dome of the Rock is a recurring motif of the novel. Sandy placed a picture of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock erased and a rebuilt Temple penciled in on a hospital bulletin board. The artist Dan¿il whose house in the town of Hebron was a station on the group pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Patriarchs painted a picture depicting Jerusalem with a rebuilt Temple. The destruction of the Dome of the Rock is often mentioned as the one act which could cause an immediate total war between Israelis and Arabs. In the Middle East talk about rebuilding the Temple is akin to talking about bringing a bomb on an airplane, nobody can feel comfortable that it is just idle talk. Furthermore, the 500 Jewish residents of Hebron, who live among a population of 30,000 Palestinians, and who constitute one of the most militant and provocative settler communities are described in the novel as ¿the ligature of the entire enterprise of Eretz Yisrael.¿ Tova calls the settlers of Hebron heroes who are, ¿suffering for their ideals, for everyone¿s ideals.¿ Although, it may be convenient to think of Miller¿s book (as does reviewer Neil Gordon of the New York Times) as a novel about deeply religious people embarked on a spiritual quest tragically obstructed by the base nationalisms of two warring peoples, this is a mistake. Those who are knowledgeable about the realities of the region will recognize Miller¿s characters are part of a group whose project is not only religious but political and nationalistic. Their goal is to create Israeli sovereignty over greater and greater portions of the land they see as given to the Jewish people by God. In attempting to achieve this goal they are obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state and thus a serious impediment to any future peace. Just as the current Likud government of Israel disingenuously claims that the occupation and expansion of settlements are unrelated to Palestinian violence and a future peace agreement, Miller¿s book falsely gives the impression that the urge to create settlements is a spiritual activity which is unrelated to the displacement and disruption of millions of Palestinian lives. Despite its spiritual and non-political veneer, in the end, this book which glorifies the settler enterprise is actually a deeply troubling literary endeavor. Permit me to rework a famous Zionist aphorism by stating that Miller and her fictional heroes forget that the Jews are a people that have a land. The West Bank and Gaza, however, is not a land without a people.